Russian opposition tycoon claims bank tried to ruin him

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A Russian businessman with ties to his country's democratic opposition claimed Thursday that his bank had tried to ruin him in order to seize his multi-million-dollar shipping empire.

Vitaly Arkhangelsky, who is fighting extradition from France to Russia on fraud charges, told a French court his holding company the Oslo Marine Group (OMG) had been brought down by its creditor, the Bank St Petersburg.

An opposition website run by chess champion Gary Kasparov, who supports the exiled businessman, alleges Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has shares in the bank, which it claims deliberately persecuted its client.

The 35-year-old executive's French lawyer, Francois Ameli said a judge in Nice had freed him on a bail of 300,000 euros and would give his response to the Russian arrest warrant in "several months".

Arkhangelsky set up OMG in 2001 as a holding company grouping several businesses, mainly in international shipping and port operations.

At its height the firm was reportedly worth around a billion dollars, but most of its subsidiaries have now declared bankruptcy and its young owner has fled to this southern French city with his family.

In Nice, a traditional home of Russian exiles since the age of the Tsars, he has demanded political asylum and lodged a counter suit against his bank.

His supporters argue that the Bank St Petersburg refused to allow OMG to restructure its debts with the deliberate intention of bankrupting it and taking control of its remaining assets.

OMG owes the bank large sums of money, and Russian prosecutors want to prosecute Arkhangelsky for fraud.

"The bank, whose shareholders -- apart from Vladimir Putin and many other famous people -- include the son of St Petersburg governor Sergei Matvienko, is trying to seize a firm worth billions of dollars," Kasparov's site claims.

Arkhangelsky has been ordered to surrender his passport and to remain in France pending an extradition ruling, his lawyer said.

© 2010 AFP

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